... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Thursday 30 December 2010

That dread word

Stoppages. Just as we were starting to see a thaw, thanks to Debdale I've just been alerted to a couple of scheduled stoppages which could bugger our plans right up.

We only have - in an ideal, melted, world - a day and a half's cruising to go to get from Great Haywood to our destination at Stretton. Within the first hour or two we should be clear of Tixall Lock and Shutts Hill lock. These locks are scheduled to close on January 4th - and stay closed until March 11th, in one case. So will it be thawed enough for us to be through before the stoppage hits? Will the stoppage maybe be postponed? (I shall ring them up and ask).

On the plus side, at least we are more or less free to leap into action as soon as the thaw lets us. It's just a case of keeping our fingers crossed and waiting. Any updates on the state of the S&W will be most welcome.

Later update
In the process of trying to find a phone number, I've downloaded the Boater's Guide for the S&W which contains the welcome correction that the Tixall Lock works are scheduled to finish on January 28th, not March 11th, which is good news, I guess. Tried phoning them but they're all off until the 4th.

Monday 27 December 2010

Laid up

Wot no Christmas picture? No seasonal greeting to the loyal throng of readers? Well, no. Because I've had flu, and frankly, communicating with the blogosphere was pretty low on my list of priorities. (Top of the list came activities such as coughing, moaning, and lying on the sofa). In fact it was only yesterday that I first turned the computer on after more than a week - which must be a record - I half expected it to have seized up. Bit like me. I'll not go into details, as there's nothing more boring than other people's illnesses (yet they feel so fascinating and unique to the victim).

Given that there is still little sign of a thaw, it doesn't look as if I'll have to break off from recuperating any time soon to move the boat. So I'm off back to the sofa.

Monday 13 December 2010

Cards in the post

My Moo cards arrived today and I'm pretty pleased with them. The card is nicely stiff, the matt finish printing sufficiently crisp, and the envelopes good quality. Even though I didn't take much trouble over choosing the photos (I didn't decide until the end of the process that I was actually going through with it) they all look reasonably good (though I could have done with removing that sign on the aqueduct by Anglo Welsh). At around a pound apiece for the minimum quantity of 25 they're expensive for bulk Christmas cards, but as birthday or other greetings cards that'd be a hard price to beat - and you really can have up to 25 different images for your 25 cards. Uploading the photos and designing the cards was simple too, and, as you can see, they arrived within the week. I don't think I'll ever buy a card from a shop again now!

Monday 6 December 2010

On the cards

I am SO organised this year. Most of my Christmas shopping is done, and yesterday we went out into the outbuilding and fetched in the Christmas decorations. There were about three big boxes of them, built up over the years, but as we seem to be downsizing Christmas a bit lately, and a lot of it is old tat anyway, I decided to have a good sort out. Out went all the plastic baubles (superseded by beautiful old glass ones from a jumble sale); the envelopes of old cards going back decades, the tinsel and beads that are more trouble than their worth to put up each year, the cards without envelopes, the cards with damp envelopes, the stuff that it seemed a good idea to buy in the post Christmas sales... It all went on Freecycle and this morning is off to a local primary school.

Well, not the old cards. I put them in the recycling, but not before taking the pinking shears to them and making about three years' supply of gift tags - a family tradition which I'm very happy to continue, and now finally looks environmentally responsible rather than just mean.

I am left with the lovely, specially chosen tree ornaments collected over the last few years, quite a few from my childhood (although it was a little sad to open the box and discover the shattered remains of the very last one of the set of 12 glass baubles that, for some reason, I was given when I was about four).

Then I wrapped up my presents and wrote my cards, finally nearly getting to the bottom of the Amnesty bargain pack I bought a few years ago, and using all my IWA cards, so I thought I should order some more, as Jim hadn't written any yet. So I went on the IWA website and ordered three more packs of ten, and only then did I read Debdale's blog about how they designed and ordered their cards from Moo, (with a handy link) so I thought, hmmm, I must look into that - and ended up ordering 25 Chertsey cards from there. Well, I've never had such great Christmassy pictures before. (Although ever canny, I haven't put any seasonally-specific greeting in them, so they could be used for wintry birthdays too.) Can't wait to see how they turn out. The site was certainly easy to use, once you get past a slight cutesiness, and even techie-boy was surprised that you can have up to 25 different pictures for your 25 cards. I've shared mine between seven.

Only problem is that I've posted all this year's cards now, so you'll have to wait until 2011 for your exclusive Chertsey greeting.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Getting the measure

Without wanting to be obsessive about it, I do like to keep an old fashioned feel in Chertsey's cabin. It's a chance to use all the old bits and pieces I actually like to have around. In many ways it's practical too - for example, I keep my enamel washing up bowls under the stove, where I'm not sure a plastic one would sit very happily. I'd love to live in a world where it was possible never to buy anything plastic - such a nightmare for resource usage and subsequent disposal (and more than other materials, plastic does seem to be treated as disposable, despite its durability; maybe because its cheap and easily made into fashionnable shapes and colours) - but it's very very hard to avoid. I certainly don't want to be looking at it in all its gimcrack garish forms more than I have too though.

What I do like is enamel. Always have has a soft spot for this heatproof, easy to clean and cheap (albeit chippable but otherwise everlasting) all-purpose material (or combination of materials) of its day. Plates, jugs, trays, ovenware; hopsital equipment; fire surrounds... pub ceilings - its versatility must have seemed endless.
Until now though Chertsey has lacked a decent enamel jug. I've had a few, but all too battered and rusty to actually be used. However, whilst Christmas shopping yesterday in the charity shops, antique shops and flea markets of Lewes (finished off with an excellent and very reasonably priced lunch at the Lewes Arms, just thought I'd get a plug for that in) I came across not one but two; and not just milk jugs or pitchers, but proper measuring jugs, so I treated myself to the nicer of the two. At six quid it cost about fifteen times as much as a cheap plastic one, but well worth it I think. I shall put up a hook for it and dsiplay it with pride, and use it with pleasure.

Friday 3 December 2010

The sound of the snow

The thing with a thick blanket of snow is how quiet everything is. No passing cars, no singing birds, no echoes, and distant noise absorbed rather than travelling onwards to our ears.

Sleeping in Chertsey's cabin last Friday night, I could occasionally hear the fire settling in the stove, the kettle gently singing sotto voce. At midnight I stoked the fire, and moved the kettle, not wanting the place to be full of steam, and all was quiet. Until at four I again awoke to a gentle rustling hissing sound, like but not like that of light rain on the cabin top above me. I checked and it wasn't the kettle; it wasn't the fire. I opened the hatches and saw that it had just begun to snow, lightly, onto the frozen canal. Could I really have heard it, I ask myself now, whispering on the steel above my head? It seems incredible. Yet at the time - and what could be more reliable - it was certain that there was nothing else it could have been. And by the time the grey dawn broke, there was a light dusting of white over everything, as light and dry as icing sugar dusted from a sieve (not the wet claggy stuff we get down here that turns into treacherous ice as soon as you touch it).

Thursday 2 December 2010

Meanwhile, back in the sunny south-east...

The difference is, everyone's surprised when it happens here. Might as well have stayed on the boat for all the chances of getting to work are.

click for legibly large version

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Rethinking winter

As regular readers will know, I'm a summer person. A hothouse flower, as an old lady I once worked with called me. I get annoyed when people moan that it's too hot; if it's too hot to work, I say, it's not the heat that's the problem. I've always approached winter with fear and loathing, felt threatened and oppressed by the cold and the wind.

But I have changed my mind. Last weekend's boating has been a revelation to me. OK, the weather was ideal, winter at its very best - but it was cold, and snowing, and that wasn't a problem (well, not for me personally. It was admittedly a bit of an issue navigation-wise). I have now come to the conclusion that if it's too cold to get to work, too snowy for the trains to run - it's not the cold and the snow that's the problem. It's our attitude and the attitude of the world that says we have to get to work at all costs, and the view that we should really just be able to get on with our lives without giving much thought to the weather. If that was ever true, it seems increasingly less so.

So it seems I am ready to embrace the winter as wholeheartedly as I do the summer. But here's the rub. You can only really enjoy - even survive - the winter if you dress for it; six or seven layers, thermals, thick socks, boots. And the fact that buildings are all centrally heated means that immediately you go indoors, you're miles too hot, red, sweating and extremely uncomfortable. OK, you can take off the top few layers, but not the thermal vests, still less the leggings (particularly if you're at work). So basically you have to make a choice: dress for indoors or outdoors, but you can't have both. Which is why winter still finds us trapped indoors, and why the boating felt so liberating - for once I was a cold weather person, ready to take it all on (though the cabin was relatively warmer, with the stove going, it can't have been anything like as warm as a house as I never took off more than a couple of outside layers). But it's not worth getting undressed and dressed again every time we want to go out, so we end up shivering and suffering as before, or just staying put. And what I've realised now is just how much we're missing by cowering indoors by the fire.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Icy pictures

As promised, here is a selection of photos from the weekend.

Monday 29 November 2010

The coldest journey

Was, without a shadow of a doubt, the journey home today. All the time I was on the boat I didn't feel the cold at all; wrapped up and with the stove going constantly, the biggest surprise was that the cold just wasn't an issue. Instead it was something to be marvelled at and enjoyed. But coming home.... I've never really noticed a car's heating system before. Handy for defrosting or demisting the windscreen, but hardly used otherwise. What I never realised was that even when you're not actively using it, that heater is taking the chill off the air. We discovered last week that Tufty's heater isn't working, but only really felt the full implications today - feeezing air constantly circulating around our feet and legs and the whole of the car, despite my best offorts to staunch it with a blanket. Even though I kept all my boating layers on, including two pairs of socks and my very excellent new boots, by the time we got home my feet were frozen, and the rest of me well chilled. None of that happened while we were actually boating.
I've interpolated a few photos from this morning and I'll upload a selection tomorrow (or sometime soonish). It was another lovely bright crisp morning, and I even suspected that the canal was starting to thaw a bit - but not enough to take a chance on. So I rang up a taxi to take Jim back to Kings Bromley, where he collected the car and dropped off the keys, and perhaps said a small final farewell. Meanwhile I took the rubbish over to the rubbish point where I met Adam of Debdale and his partner whose name I'm afraid eludes me, which was a nice surprise. Having passed us at Kings Bromley on Saturday morning, they'd got as far as Tixall Wide before becoming stuck, and they likewise were awaiting a taxi to Norbury to collect their car. I took the opportunity to show Adam over Chertsey, and when he had left to drain down Debdale's water systems (what a boon it is not having any! Talking of which, I think it is a myth that you keep the water can next to the chimney to stop it freezing. Ours still froze solid), I got chatting to Annaliese from one of the hippy boats (I hope they won't mind being called that) that we're tied up behind, and she promised to keep an eye on Chertsey until the thaw.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Now that's what I call an icebreaker exercise

Last Thursday, I had to go to Stratford (East London) to teach a class- this will be a regular weekly thing from now on. For those of you unfamiliar with the tube, my apologies now for something slightly esoteric. My habit had always been to get the Victoria Line from Euston, five minutes from my office, and change at Oxford Circus for the Central Line to Stratford. Yes, in some ways this was an unnecessary journey (and as my colleague Ben pointed out last week, in the wrong direction) but it had one inestimable advantage - I couldn't get lost. But no, Ben said, it's easy, you should walk to Holborn and get the Central Line from there, it's only ten minutes. Well, I beg to differ, it's nearer fifteen but not wanting to be a wimp I took his advice and last Thursday I got to Holborn to be greeted with the information that Central Line trains weren't stopping there, on account of a person under a train (yes, that really is what they say) at Tottenham Court Road. So I spent another fifteen minutes walking back to Euston, knowing already that I was going to belate for my first class of the year, and resumed my normal route. Because of the earlier delays the Central Line train was packed; OK, that's par for the course on the rush hour tube. But when we finally arrived at Stratford it was to be met by policement directing us to the furthest exit - due to covercrowding - entailing a long walk through packed tunnels. I'm not claustrophobic, but I couldn't help but see myself suffocated under a heap of rampaging panicking people... It didn't help that Stratford is just two stops after Bethnal Green.

I survived, of course, and I kept telling myself, this time tomorrow you'll be on the boat. And here I am. I was thinking of this as I walked along the crisply snowy towpath earlier, just before it got dark, and thinking how much happier I am here than there. Here being Great Hayward. And so to the story of today's exploits.

So much for the early start. Having gone to bed at eight thirty - yes, half past eight - and woken to tend the stove only at eleven and two, I still managed to sleep until quarter to eight this morning and wake up to the stove nearly - but not quite, phew! - out. We left at quarter past nine. We were breaking ice in earnest this time; no one else had passed through in either direction and it wasn't thin either. Jim reckoned an inch; I more modestly went for around three quarters. It was interesting, and rewarding - a new challenge requiring a different style of boating. Bends could take two or three attempts as I tried to break a big enough space to turn into. The locks though were not as bad as we feared; it was possible to crush the ice behind the gates. Mind you, we only managed two of them. At Haywood Lock we at last met someone coming the other way. Hooray! Only they had come from Stone, not the Staffs and Worcs where we were heading, so our joyousness was short lived.
I didn't count how many attempts it took to get round Great Haywood Junction, but I got there in the end. This however was a different kettle of fish, as we discovered very quickly. It's still shallow, and we really couldn't get the purchase to power through the ice, which itself seemed to be thicker here - over an inch even to my eyes. After a couple of hundred yards we gave up, and reversed back to the narrows for lunch, while Jim went off to scout out a stopping place. He found one, just - dangerously only just but I doubt there'll be many more big boats coming through - beyond bridge 74, so I backed all the way out again and turned back round. Handy for the shops and the rubbish point, if we were staying, but we've decided - barring an unexpected overnight thaw - to head for home tomorrow, and make another attempt next week, if possible, or even later.

So a disappointing end but a wonderful adventure. The weather has been beautiful, the scenery stunning. Everything is crisp and white, the snow powdery. The icebreaking was a splendid challenge which I really enjoyed meeting. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. And given the chance, I wouldn't swap it for London life either, never.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Of course we did

It took us until gone one o'clock, and a new battery, but we did get away in the end. Three and a half hours (sorry Blossom!) haven't got us quite as far as Great Haywood though, bad light stopped play just short of bridge 70. Hopefully tomorrow will be OK... we have wrapped the engine up warm and the battery too to give them their best shot, but a lot of the problem this morning was all the diesel having drained down, and we don't have a priming tool for this like we do for Warrior's National.

This afternoon's boating was divine. The ice was already broken (thanks Adam) so we just had the pleasure of moving the pieces about. The sun was bright and the powdery snow mostly untouched, white and perfect. The picture is of before we left this morning... no sad farewell, we were just so pleased to be on our way, and having had a look at the new mooring yesterday, excited about getting there. A way to go yet, but all being well... we really will be off first thing in the morning.

Latest update

Well, it would be plenty... if the engine would start. It's 10 o'clock and we should have left by now. The main cause of the non starting seems to be the battery, which hasn't liked its rather crude charging regime over the last month or so. On top of that of course everything's so very cold and choggy. The dilemma now is, do we give it a bit of artificial help, warming up the engine room with an electric heater... or does that just risk us being stuck tomorrow morning in the middle of nowhere. Or will the engine retain enough heat from the day's running to make things a bit easier tomorrow. Obviously by the time you've sent in your answers on a postcard, the decision will have been made. I'm sure that if we can get it started, then we will go, and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

It is such a beautiful day. It must be cold, because water is freezing as soon as I spill it, but since making the most significant discovery of my life - warm clothes work - I am scarcely noticing. I was of course much too hot in the night, as I hadn't managed to get the stove to settle down, and I certainly didn't want it to go out. So I was up at midnight, to see the moon shining through the trees onto the frozen canal, at three, to feel that the air was perhaps a bit warmer, then at four, woken by the almost imperceptible sound of snow on the roof.

This morning there was a light dusting of white over everything, and now thyere is bright sunshine. All the taps are frozen of course, so we are very glad of Chertsey's water tanks, and the fact that we can take off the cover , break the ice on the surface, and ladle out the water with a jug. I am obsessed with amassing as much hot water as possible - hence last night's title.

Just now there was the most extraordinary sound, as Debdale (was it the Debdale? Was that even perhaps Adam, but more bearded than when I last saw him?) came through breaking the ice. It's not very thick, but he said it had been hard going. We shared the fear that it could well get worse. So should we give up, not set out? Well, apart from the fact that we're supposed to be off the mooring by Tuesday, I just don't want to give up or to miss this opportunity at least to try. I guess you'd better watch this space.

Friday 26 November 2010

Constant hot water

Well, I never did tell, did I what our secret source of fun was. It was... whisper it... being on the committee of HNBOC. Oh how we love a committee (until we remember how much we hate it, that it). Jim has been co-opted as Fens rep, and it appears (subject to a sample press release) I may be about to become their press officer. Last Saturday we went to a committee meeting, prior to a very interesting and enjoyable presentation of photographs of Birmingham by Bob May. So there it is, our secret vice revealed.

And so to bring this bang up to date, here I sit in Chertsey's cabin, the kettle burbling away and my cheeks reddened from the heat of the stove, looking forward to setting off tomorrow for what promises to be a bit of real winter boating. I did see a forecast last week that promised as low as -9, so that's what I shall claim it was, as I don't have a thermometer. I am, wardrobe-wise at least, fully prepared for this eventuality, starting with two thermal vests and finishing with the arctic parka, while for lower down I have my marvellous three sizes too big jumble sale Rohan padded trousers, and more thermals. Less dance of the seven veils, more pass the parcel.

So, hopefully we are all set. The car shuffle has been done (dear old Fang starting first turn of the key. Tufty, we have discovered, is a summer car, as the heater doesn't work. I returned from Braunston last week all wrapped up and with a blanket over my knees - proper motoring!) A quick lok at the new mooring shows it to be very nice indeed, and I was reminded that not only is there a toilet there, it actually has heating! Oh luxury indeed. Tomorrow then, we should leave with the dawn. Allowing three days for a trip that would take only two with longer daylight hours, so should be OK.

Sunday 21 November 2010

It lives!

Just when you were ready to write it off, I finally have something new and boat related to write about. Apologies to anyone who both noticed and cared about the long absence. For a bit there, I just couldn't be bothered. All blogged out. Taking a well-earned rest. And nothing, but nothing, happening on the boat front, apart from worrying about Chertsey languishing in the cold and damp 200 miles away.

However, all that is about to change. Next weekend we shall be moving Chertsey to a new mooring - or, in fact, back to its previous temporary home at Stretton on the Shroppie. We'd become increasingly disappointed with the mooring at Kings Bromley. It has such potential, especially as a wharf for old boats, but this just can't be realised as long as there's nothing to tie up to, piles of rubbish, and the already grim toilets are never unlocked. So when I heard that Keith was planning to let a couple of long term moorings, I leapt at the chance to take Chertsey back to a yard where we've always felt welcome and comfortable, since we first arrived there with Warrior back at Easter 2006.

Plans are starting to firm up for next year's work too; I have made tentative dates to get the gunnels (and various other bits of timber), and then the cloths, made after Easter next year. Both of these will be done at Braunston, by Pete Boyce and Sam Noon respectively. The plan is to go to the Easter gathering at Ellesmere port (for the first time by boat), and then to head back down to Braunston.

Meanwhile, next weekend will see the start of the short trip to Stretton, and then after that we're going to be taking Bill and Michelle's boat Shilling from Stretton to their new mooring at Tardebigge - another new adventure.

In the meantime, i.e. yesterday, we have been having fun as only we know how, which I will tell you about tomorrow. Or perhaps the next day. But not too long, I promise.

Monday 1 November 2010


The days are getting shorter, but dragging. There's not enough natural light to give us energy, but electric light keeps us awake and working when we should be sleeping. The cold and wind and wet keeps us hunched and cowering in hermetically sealed double glazed energy efficient airless houses.

God, I need to go boating. To wrap up against the wind and rain, get the stove going and the hatches open; find the little scraps of sunlight that are left, and breathe the fresh cold air.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Other boating blogs are available

Of course you knew that. Naturally I have a few favourites and friends whose doings I like to follow, but rather than list them all here (and risk offending those I miss out; I do worry about such things) I avail myself of the service Mike kindly provides at Zulu Warrior. No matter that Zulu's doings haven't been updated for a while, Mike's comprehensive boaty blog roll automatically lists in order of updatedness (sometimes it takes a few minutes and/or a refresh, but it does). Thus I can just scroll down and see which of my faves and friends has updated since I last had a good session and click straight through. Occasionally my eye will be caught by someone else's arresting title and I'll take a glance at one I haven't read before. And sometimes my eye is struck by a title so un-arresting I just have to look. This one certainly delivers exactly what it promises!

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Seeing the sights of Sussex

A brief but intensive interlude last weekend, as Bill and Michelle (residents of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and owners of Shilling) visited southern England for the first time. Shilling's out of the water for a survey and to have some work done, so Bill and Michelle decided to leave the Midlands behind for a part of the country they'd not seen before - and we were to be their guides.

We met them at Lewes station on Friday, and showed them to the Dorset Arms, where they were to stay (it all proved very satisfactory, I'm pleased to report). We stopped there for a couple of pints of Harveys, and then some lunch... a precedent which was to set the pattern for the next few days. Then we left them to have a rest and find their feet before returning to take them to the John Harvey Tavern for the evening. This is the Harveys brewery tap, and Old was the order of the evening. The place was very busy, and the food really no more than adequate. Prior to leaving the Dorset we introduced them to the parochial pleasures of Toad in the Hole.

Saturday was devoted to the seeking out of white cliffs - Sussex's, apparently, because they are unprotected and constantly crumbling, are far whiter than Dover's. We set off in the car to Birling Gap, but Jim decided that Bill and Michelle should see a selection of feudal Sussex villages en route. One of these was Firle, and as we entered its main street we saw a sign at which the years fell away: 'Jumble Sale 2 pm'. Well, bu now it was 2.30, and any self-respecting jumbler would have been and gone, but this was still too good an opportunity to miss, to show Michelle another Great British Tradition (waning). She was delighted to acquire a new teapot for Shilling (indeed, for a shilling, well, 5p) with a brace of plates and cups thrown in for another 20p. I meanwhile got a mirror, a rug, a toffee tin bearing an Amsterdam canal scene, a quantity of rag for rug making, and some books. Ah well, old habits die hard.

Then it was off again to Birling Gap, where the old Birling Gap hotel has been taken over by the National Trust. We oohed and aahed at the white cliffs for a bit, and at the gardens still disappearing into the sea, before retiring inside for a pint of Beachy Head ale from a local micro-brewery whose name eludes me. Then onwards and upwards, to Beachy Head itself, to the very summit this time, which is actually well away from the cliff edge. It was sunny but windy and I tested out my US military parka for the first time (it was pronounced the genuine article by Bill, and a snip at £30) and found it most gratifyingly protective. While Michelle and I braved the elements, Bill and Jim retired to the car with an ice cream. Boys, eh.

Next, back to Newhaven, to play host at our house with a traditional offering of home made scones with jam and cream, with tea in cups and saucers, followed by fish and chips and... oh, is that more beer?

Up bright and early on Sunday, and a trip to the Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park. The first carriages we went in weren't all that old; though dating perhaps from the twenties they were still the stock I remember from my childhood; the worn upholstery so familiar, but the seats unexpectedly soft and springy. The lights (I'll post a picture another time as they're on the other camera) were, I'm sure, exactly like the ones I should have on Chertsey. For the return journey we went and sat in a newly restored 1951 carriage - the comfort of which puts modern trains to shame. At Horsted Keynes we stopped for a look around the beautifully nostalgic station, at the buffet, the enamel signs, and the other locos and carriages, some of which seemed to be being used for filming something.

Horsted Keynes (pronounced as in Maynard rather than Milton) used to be the end of the line when I was a child, but the railway now continues to Kingscote, where there is an ice cream kiosk, a field, and a second hand book stall where I bought a rather nice old wooden box; a bit damaged but not bad for two quid.

Then back again through the not very exciting Sussex countryside (although the waether and the autumn light did it proud) and to the inevitable pub; after a fair bit of research (Dr. Duct would have been proud of us; in fact I did suggest to Jim that we could skip all the internet nonsense and just ring Craig up and ask him) we settled on the Rose and Crown in Fletching. We had also considered the Griffin in Fletching (very expensive!) and the Blackboys Inn in Blackboys (love the name, but before anyone gets too excited, it dates from the time when the area was a centre for charcoal burning); we actually rang them up and it sounded as if selling us some dinner would be a bit too much trouble for them to contemplate. The Rose and Crown proved to be a good choice, serving a lovely Sunday roast (opportunity to explain the mystery of Yorkshire pudding and what it's doing in Sussex), with Harveys and London Pride and excellent service from nice friendly helpful people.

The weekend was over and I had to be back at work on Monday, but the fun wasn't quite over yet. Before getting on my train I joined Jim in Lewes to pick out some little gifts to remind Bill and Michell of their stay. Our port of call of course had to be the Harvey's shop - where else, for something light and easily packed (so no beer, sorry) - t-shirts, shopping bags and souvenir books. Then I went off to the station and Jim headed over to the Dorset, where he picked up our guests for a day touring Lewes itself. Among other things they made sure to take in the Lewes Arms, epicentre of the legendary Greene King boycott.

It must have been the busiest weekend I've had for a long while, but it was great fun, not only spending time with Michelle and Bill, but actually taking the trouble to look with new eyes at what's on the doorstep. Can't wait to do it again - after I've had a bit of a rest!

Thursday 14 October 2010

119 days...

One hundred and nineteen days and half a dozen phone calls since I paid for it, Chertsey's licence has finally arrived! Hooray, and thanks especially to Paul Burch for sorting it out and reissuing the old number. Say what you like about BW, but frustrating as this process has been, everyone I've dealt with has been so wonderfully pleasant and helpful that I haven't even felt like shouting once.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Should I worry?

Not all that many years ago, these:

started appearing around the house. And we all knew what that led to.


.... should I worry?

Friday 8 October 2010

Boating on the village green

You won't have been following the saga of Newhaven's West Beach, the only sandy beach along the coast for miles either way. The whole of the port of Newhaven, including the beach, used many moons ago to be owned by British Rail, who operated the Sealink ferries. The ferry operation alog with the port however was sold off to, first to Sea Containers, and is now owned by Newhaven Port and Properties which despite its name is a French owned company.

A couple of years ago a bit of concrete fell off the sea wall which encloses this lovely little beach. Obviously, NPP didn't want to fork out for the large scale repairs that the concrete wall clearly needs. But on the other hand, neither did they want to get sued if the next lump of it fell on a sunbather's head. So from their perspective the answer was obvious: close the beach and bar all access.

And thus for the last two summers the tide has gone in and out and washed away no sandcastles or writing in the sand; filled in no holes, nor even carried away any litter. You can stand above the beach and marvel at the pristine smooth sand that no one but the gulls can touch. But that might be about to change. Some enterprising soul had the idea of applying to have the West Beach designated as a village green. If this were successful - which would entail demonstrating that local people had used it for recreation for over twenty years - then access to it could not be barred, and, by implication, NPP would have to maintain it.

So a campaign was mounted, calling on people to dig out old photos to show how they'd used the beach over the preceding decades. The evidence was presented to a planning inspector, who makes a recommendation to the County Council, who have the power to make the designation. And it was reported today that the inspector has recommended that the West Beach should be accorded village green status, which is great news. It may not be a final victory however; not only do the County Council still have to give their approval, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if NPP were very slow to act. Fingers crossed however that next summer we'll be building sandcastles again.

Anyway, this gives me the chance to post one of the photos of my finest hour in the sand, back in July 2007 (and incidentally show how lovely the beach is).If you want to see the whole process from start to ignominious end, then look here.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Winding in the rain

Today we did finally make it up to check on Chertsey - albeit as briefly as you can get away with when it's a 400 mile round trip. We had waited in vain for the weather to improve, and given the heavy rain decided that we really had to go and make sure that the pump had been working and that all was otherwise well.

The visit didn't get off to the best start, with the discovery of a (very damp) BW ticket firmly attached to the boat... I shall regale you with my further Adventures in Licencing once I have spoken to the various BW bods involved tomorrow.

The hold also looked suspiciously wet, with water well over the floors in the back end and extending about half way along the boat. More than there should have been if the pump was working, but less than I'd have expected if it wasn't. The mystery was solved when Jim discovered that the hose had worked its way loose and found its way back into the hold, so the pump had, for a while, been recirculating the water. Amazingly though this hadn't significantly drained the battery, so things were looking up. My patent rainwater diverter (pictured below) also seemed to have done us proud and prevented the entire rainfall landing on the roof of the adjacent building ending up in the hold.
In order to charge the battery, in the end, we did have to wind. There were other disadvantages to facing the other way too, mainly that it wasn't possible to get directly onto the back of the boat. So we took the polythene sheeting off the engine room (it too had been very successful in keeping the rain out), fired up the engine, and reversed to the marina, winded in the entrance, and reversed back again. By the time we had achieved this we were pretty much soaked through.

Tying up on this moorning is quite fun, as one end of the boat is against the side of a building, with no means of stepping off; neither is there anything particularly prominent to catch hold of or lassoo. What it entails is me (in this case) standing on the front with the cabin shaft and using it to hook the (knotted blue) rope we've left neatly coiled in an elder which is growing out of the side of the building, and tying this round the t-stud. The other end of the rope is attached to a chain which is somehow attached to the wall. At the other end, it is possible to get off, but again we leave the rope attached to the bank because it's looped tightly behind what appears to be a bit of reinforcing steel holding up the wall. Still, we seem to have it down to a fine art now.

So Jim set up the charger, I dried everything that had got wet in the course of our short outing, and positioned a vital bucket under the bull's eye, which is still dripping, and no sooner was that done than we were off again... when what I really wanted to do was light the stove and give the old girl the TLC she deserves.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Don't call me...

.... And I won't call you either.

One of the nice things about being a grown up, I am belatedly discovering, is that it's all right not to eat things just because you don't like them (no one can make you any more), and it's possible to say 'actually, I prefer not to use the telephone.'

For maybe seventy years, the phone was a necessary evil. But now, thanks to email and the wonders of SMS, it simply isn't necessary any more. (I always say, and it is nothing less than the truth, that without the advent of email, I would not have the career I have now. I simply couldn't have made the contacts if I had had to phone people up.) Evil? Well, not literally. But certainly I always found it oppressive. I hated making calls (the idea that you were imposing into someone's life), and I hated receiving them - being expected to jump to it the instant someone, be they friend, stranger or salesman, wanted my attention. But it wasn't just this seething resentment. There is something very strange and unnatural about a phone conversation. It is a conversation, and yet not a conversation. The visual cues which contribute so much to communication are totally absent. Now, I know this is also true of written communication, but the thing is, we know that's not a conversation; we approach it differently and make allowances for its inadequacies. It also has compensating advantages. A phone conversation on the other hand, is merely an inadequate conversation, an emasculated, shadow of one.

People say that with emails etc there's a danger of firing off a reply before you've thought about it properly. And so there is, if you're careless. But on the phone you have no choice. You have to reply instantly, to fill the void of silence. Under that sort of pressure, how easy it is to say the wrong thing, or for it to come across differently from how you meant it, especially when there is no kind or amused look to soften the blow. And everyone must surely know how heartrendingly frustrating it is to have a row on the phone, how hollow and fruitless.

But, as I said, necessary no more. In fact we will look back on the era of long-distance aural communication as a brief anomoly between periods when the written word was the only way to communicate over long distances.* In the nineteenth century there were up to seven postal collections and deliveries per day - scarcely different from emails pinging back and forth.

The written note gives us time to think, to formulate our thoughts, moderate our reactions, and craft our communication. It's no substitute for a face to face conversation, but it doesn't pretend to be. But unlike the phone call, it's a useful complement to it.

Also, people worry that 'text speak' is killing the art of letter writing. But - execrable as it can be - it isn't; the telephone was the greatest threat to that. Email and even text may actually, in a small way, be reviving it. People had lost the art of writing elegant English long before early SMS required them to abbreviate everything; those who did have that facility certainly didn't lose it as soon as the Nokia was in their hand; they (we) are the ones who write 1000 character texts complete with correct punctuation.

And while that may not be a very elegant rounding off, I must leave it there, and go and have some dinner. Early start tomorrow - we really are going to go and check on Chertsey, but it's going to have to be a day trip.

*Stephen Fry, I think it was, pointed this out.

Friday 1 October 2010

Disconcerting picture of the day

Nothing to do with waterways really, except tangentially the river Usk... My sister lives in Newport, and so I therefore have very slightly more interest in the Ryder Cup than I would otherwise have had (i.e. zero, or even less if such a thing were mathematically possible). Golf is a sport(?) - well, a game at any rate - that I just do not get. Mark Twain wasn't far off in my book when he called it a good walk spoiled. It rivals even fishing for its proponents' capacity to spend vast sums of money on equipment they do very little with (yes, I know I spend vast sums of money on my hobby too, but at least I've got a bloody great boat to show for it). Anyway, that is neither here nor there; if you wish to walk round hitting a little ball with a stick and trying to get it into a hole (eighteen times), it's a free country and I will defend (albeit half heartedly and certainly not to the death) your right to do it (hmmm... apart from the environmental damage that golf courses do, of course).

But I digress. What's this all about? I thought at first this was going to be a piece about Virgin cabin staff. I'm used to seeing sports teams all dolled up in matching suits (well, most of them couldn't be trusted to dress themselves, could they) but these women's only connection with the team, and the only thing they have in common (well, apart from their faces, hair and teeth, obviously) is that they are the players' 'wives-and-girlfriends' (what we grown ups tend to call 'partners'). And yet not only has someone had the bright idea that they should sport a uniform, but a large number, if not all of them (please tell me there were some rebels) have acquiesced in it. Am I the only one who finds it a bit creepy?

Thursday 30 September 2010


Nice to see them back on form.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Books I read in September

I said I'd been busy! Hence the rather short list

Andrew Rawnsley The End of the Party
I haven't quite finished this actually, but it's been my evening sofa read for the best part of the month - a hefty hardback too big for the train. Meticulously researched and entertainingly written account of the latter years of the Labour government. Bit of a swizz - the paperback's just out with two new chapters!

Sophie Hannah A Room Swept White
Usual addictive preposterousness

Ruth Rendell The Monster in the Box
I used to really like Ruth Rendell. Back in the days when she'd only written forty or so books, I had all of them. But lately she's been coasting on her reputation and this must be the worst yet: repetitive, didactic and clunking; no atmosphere, no suspense, no subtlety.

Michael Sandel Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?
This was for work (I get to do some political theory teaching this term! Huzzah!), but I'd heartily recommend it regardless. A really thought provoking book with excellent, albeit American, examples to illustrate the points and dilemmas, and the best exposition of Kant for beginners I've ever read. The only disappointment is Sandel's argument of his own position towards the end, which still fails to convince.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Three quarters of the way

I started out in January with the intention of posting on the blog every day - and so far, allowing for a (very) few postdated posts, I've achieved that. OK, there may have been a cost in terms of the mind numbing triviality of some of the stuff I filled the space with, but you could come and look and find something new every day. Obsessed as I am with my chart position, this had to be a good thing, I thought.

The trouble is, I'm not sure I can keep it up for another three months, especially now that things have gone a bit quiet on the Chertsey front, what with winter nearly upon us and all (though we are going up this weekend, not that any great excitement is planned), and masses of stuff to do at work (as in so many cases, essential savings are being made by cutting part time and temporary staff and transferring the workload to the permanent ones, of whom I'm lucky enough to be one).

Then, at the end of the year, I had it in mind that I would stop blogging. Leave 'em wanting more, go out on a high note, and recover a bit more of a private existence and a lot more time not glued to the computer screen.

That too has its downside though - there is still important (and photogenic!) stuff to do to Chertsey, most notably the gunnels, other woodwork, cloths and painting - all very visual - and none of it is likely to happen before the end of 2010. Also, people I have mentioned this idea to have been kind enough to beg and plead with me (OK, I exaggerate a bit) not to leave the blogosphere, which is very nice, and I don't want to be hard hearted.

Finally, from when I first started blogging Warrior (in the spring of 2006!), an important function of the blog was to act as a record for myself of work done and places been. Looking back over those old posts, there's so much there that would have been forgotten if I hadn't had this motivation to write it down.

So... I have decided (I think) on a sort of compromise with myself. After the end of September, I will try to resist the compulsion to post every day, and will only post when there is something Chertsey related to report, or something that otherwise leaps out at me. And I won't stop at the end of the year, but will carry on posting intermittently as and when there is something to post. And if I hit they 'publish' button now, I'm committed, arent I. And sod the chart position. I'll go and count rivets instead.

Monday 27 September 2010

Lazy day

Actually the trouble is I'm too busy to think of anything original and scintillating to post but I have just spent five minutes over a cup of tea enjoying Diamond Geezer's Flickr tour of the Regents Canal, so this is my contribution to waterways happiness today.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Retail therapy

I may have mentioned before the irresistible lure that charity shops exert upon me, especially when I'm in a strange town with unfamiliar stock. I've had many a treasure over the years, including most of my wardrobe. The strangest find must surely have been the Measham teapot that turned up in Newhaven, of all places. So when Ali came down, after we'd exhausted what Newhaven had to offer (PDSA, Sense and Searchlight) we set off to Lewes, where I think we found and explored seven outlets. On the whole they seemed very expensive, and we didn't buy much. But their prices were as nothing compared to the one (Barnados) we popped into in passing in Brighton, which was unbelieveably dear (£12.99 for a pair of very obviously not new boots? I think not). Presumably they know their market and are selling stuff and bringing money in at these prices, but I can't imagine who's paying them.

All of this was by the way of introducing a link to Charity Shop Tourism, a blog with great promise, but, like the shops themselves, often something of a disappointment.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Brighton breezy

I woke up this morning at about half past two, and realised that I'd omitted to do something. I had completely forgotten to do a blog post. This was of course entirely due to the excitement of my sister visiting, and nothing whatever to do with the amount of red wine I had consumed.

This morning (after proper waking up time) we set off to Brighton to visit Dean (a colleague and friend of mine). Partly business, because Jim is going to paint their house, but also partly social. And what a lovely day it turned out to be, as we set off for a little walk to make the most of the late summer sun, and found ourselves strolling along Brighton seafront, first having an impromptu lunch of hot kipper rolls (or in my case, whitebait) from the Brighton Smokehouse, before proceeding along to buy dessert, in the form of an ice cream cornet, from Sebastian at his part time workplace. Then on we ambled to the Palace Pier (to call it by its real name) where we sat in deckchairs looking at the sea and ate doughnuts, before nipping into the amusement arcade where I lost the princely sum of 12p (and Ali gambled away £1.16) on the 2 and 10p machines. Then back we went to Dean's, for tea, collecting crumpets on the way - a brief visit turned into a lovely day's outing, and all the better for being completely unplanned and unexpected. Oh, and we saw some boats too.

Friday 24 September 2010


That is the first time this year, and probably ever, that I have actually completely forgotten to post. Sorry.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Lewes Castle

My sister's visiting, so we all went over to Lewes to have dinner in the Snowdrop. Still surreal....
.... But they have beer from Dark Star now, as well as Harveys. The American Pale Ale was lovely.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Sign of past times

One last Wolverhampton photo. Signs and fascias from the 50s and 60s are becoming rare now, and worth recording. I really liked this one. The shop was still there too, plying its trade.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Wolverhampton wonders

As I keep saying, I was very pleasantly surprised by Wolverhampton town (well, it's not a proper city is it, no more than Brighton 'n' Hove) centre. I thought it offered a rewarding range of architectural marvels, of which here are a few.

Monday 20 September 2010

We wuz robbed ('ere)

Yes, this is where the evil deed occurred. It does look a bot of a lonely and forsaken spot, doesn't it. But I will say that we - and the boat - were fine there for two days apart from that little incident.

You will have guessed that I am going to indulge in a little backdated photo-posting. Happier ones tomorrow.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Good plain cook

First of all, here is the gingerbread recipe which I promised Blossom:

4 oz butter
5 level tablespoons black treacle
4 level tablespoons golden syrup
3 oz demerara sugar
5 tablespoons milk
1 heaped desertspoon marmalade
4 oz self raising flour
4 oz fine oatmeal
2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs

Put everything down to and including the marmalade into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until it's all melted/dissolved. Allow to cool then beat in the eggs, then beat in all the dry ingredients. Pour into a greased and lined large loaf tin, and bake at mark 3 for 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours.

It comes from what is probably my favourite cookery book, the Stork Cookery Service's Art of Home Cooking, published in 1963. Apart from the fact that it introduces margarine into absolutely every recipe (I substitute butter in most of them) it is, it is the perfect basic guide to plain cooking, including such forgotten delights as brown stew, jam roly poly, and a 'curry of cooked meat' featuring 1 large onion, 1 1/2 oz Stork Table Margarine, 1 rounded tablespoon curry powder, 3/4 pint stock or water, 2 oz sultanas (optional), 1 large cooking apple, 1 rounded tablespoon chutney, 2 teaspoons black treacle (optional), 2 teaspoons lemon juice, salt and pepper, and 3/4 lb cooked meat. Exotic or what?

Secondly, this coincides with two pieces in the paper today which have set me off. One is a long article detailing how exercise is not an effective way of tackling obesity (you mean someone actually thought it was? I always knew that was a flim flam put about by the food industry), and a news piece about how Jamie Oliver's 'Ministry of Food' cookery school may have to close owing to funding cuts. Now I don't particularly love Jamie Oliver (although nor do I hate him) but with or without his branding, the idea of teaching people basic cooking skills so that they're less reliant on takeaways and ready meals, has to be a good thing for their health and their finances.

It seems that there is now a whole generation or more who have never learnt enen the simplest cooking techniques, even as we gorge on Nigel (Slater) and Nigella on the screen and on the page. I learnt to cook at school. From the age of eleven, we had weekly lessons in which a recipe was demonstrated, and then we got to do it. This wasn't every term, as the Sex Discrimination Act had just come into force, so I had to do wookwork and metalwork too, but it whetted my apppetite sufficiently that I opted to take Food and Nutrition at 'O' Level, much to my mother's horror at using one one of my precious options on something so apparently trivial. But no prizes for guessing which of my ten 'O' Levels has been most useful to me since I left school. We covered nutrition, food hygiene, purchasing and menu planning, and time planning, and we learnt all the basic skills like making a white sauce, pastry, victoria sponge and so on.

It's all a million miles from what my kids did at school under the name of 'Food Technology' - this seemed to consist largely of designing packaging, and, I recall, making a batch of biscuits every week, testing them on us, and refining the recipe. It was about the food industry, rather than home cooking. And that's where we've gone so wrong. And all the time the government is so in thrall to the food industry that they dare not even come out and say 'eating processed crap makes you fat', we're never going to get it right.

Anyway, enjoy the gingerbread.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Boater's friends

Unlike Diamond Geezer, my blog isn't read by sufficient numbers of people to justify publicists trying to get me to namecheck their products. What follows, therefore, is a genuine and personal view of four products that are a real boon to the boater. I have Mike of Zulu Warrior to thank for introducing me to two of them!

1. Bounty Roll (now called 'Plenty', but that's just silly, isn't it). Cloths, even 'disposable' ones, aren't much iuse in the absence of running water. Ordinary kitchen paper disintegrates as soon as you get it wet and actually try to wipe anything with it. Bounty roll is effectively a genuine single use cloth. Just don't let it anywhere near a macerator (not a problem for me, natch).

2. Ecover washing up liquid Use it to wash your dishes, your socks, your body and your hair. Gentle, nicely fragranced and nearly guilt free - and saves storage with one bottle instead of four.

3. Filtered milk (e.g. Cravendale, though Tesco at least now also sell it under their own name). I thought this was a gimmick until Mike bought us a pint, but it isn't; it really keeps miles better than ordinary fresh milk, even once opened, and tastes no different. Bought some in Wolverhampton on Thursday and it was still fine on Monday - without a fridge.

4. Antibacterial surface wipes (Parazone etc; a.k.a. toilet wipes). Primarily for use off the boat (although a useful and reassuring emergency handwipe) for prior preparation when you need to use a pub/shop/BW toilet. Some might think this a little neurotic, but I find it reassuring. At least I no longer carry rubber gloves too.

So that's my four top products for enhancing the basic boating experience. Any others would care to add?

Friday 17 September 2010

Ma Pardoe's

Those photos that I couldn't upload before, of this extraordinary pub in Netherton.

And its amazing ceiling. It even gets a mention on the website of the Institute of Vitreous Enamellers, which says that finishing pub ceilings like this was common in the nineteenth century. In which case, why don't more of them survive?

Thursday 16 September 2010

Famous Blue Raincoat

Not every day I get to give a post the title of one of my favourite songs. Anyway, the plan to cover the hold entirely in blue polythene was put, ahem, on hold. Jim did fix the batten all along the sides; the idea was to take out the mast and stands, put the planks down the middle, spread the sheeting across this, and fix it with another batten on top. The scheme foundered on the fact that it was windy and rainy and we were fed up, and also the realisation that once done there would be no way of getting from one end of the boat to the other, as although the planks would still be there, the polythene would be too slippery to walk on. So we decided instead to put our faith in the new float-switch pump, along with my cunningly designed device (not pictured, unfortunately) to prevent the downpipe depositing the entire rainfall landing on the adjacent roof directly into the hold. This consists of a strip of polythene sheeting (it's heavy duty damp proof course stuff) cable tied to the downpipe and extending down below the outlet between the hull side and the wall - hopefully sufficient to divert the flow straight into the canal.

The engine room does sport a raincoat however, attached to battens extended back from the gunnel timber over the steel gunnels. This is mainly to stop rain getting in above the hatches, which are vulnerable on both sides, having no drip (which I am assured is the proper term) above them to prevent this. This is something we are going to have to add. Most other boats seem to have them, either in wood or steel.

We are now facing the other way on the mooring. This is partly because we couldn't be bothered to wind in the marina entrance and then reverse back to the mooring, partly for a change, partly because we might want to go the other way next time, and partly for more privacy, as the other way round, Chertsey backs onto the back end of the next boat along; this way we back onto the front end of Minnow. The downside is that you have to walk along the planks to get from the bank to the cabin, and we couldn't get the back right in because it's shallow there. We might have to do a bit of dredging.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Back again

Well, we got off to a relatively early start (7.45, ahem) with the kettle and the porridge on the stove (I think we finally got breakfast about half past ten) and set off into the dazzling golden dawn. Sailing round the turn out of Great Haywood (beautifully, I may say) as luck would have it I saw a boat turning in... so I put it in reverse, stop, back off - didn't even touch the bank... the other guy stops too, and waits while I slowly but gracefully bring Chertsey round... I haven't touched the bank, I haven't touched him, he hasn't touched me, he hasn't touched any of the moored boats... I'm congratulating myself on a nicely executed manouevre and thank him for waiting as I pass... To be greeted with a volley of abuse! The funny thing is, when I do screw things up, eight times out of ten people are very nice about it, and even when they're not, I shrug and put it down to experience. But when someone has a go at me and I know I haven't done anything wrong - that's when it hurts! It seemed so unfair. So I'm afraid I told him he didn't know what he was talking about and probably clocked up another point for arrogant working boat owners.

That was about the most exciting thing to happen today. We've made our way back to Kings Bromley, stopping at Rugeley to restock the stores and left Morrisons with poor Jim laden with tinned stuff and beer. He then went off to get some more tile battten for a grand scheme of sheeting over the hold with polythene for the winter. Just as we arrived back at Kings Bromley though the wind got up to such an extent that the actual job was left until tomorrow. I had a grand clean up of the cabin, and Jim did the engine room. So I guess that's the end of another trip :-(

Tuesday 14 September 2010

New old friends

As luck would have it, just when I desperately need to correct yesterday's post (thank you Blossom and Dove!! I was lying awake worrying after I wrote that; I knew I'd got it wrong, I was dead on my feet and not thinking straight) and for the first time in ages the signal's so feeble I can't even leave a witty comment on my own blog! Rest assured I will put it right and cover my shame as soon as I possibly can.

Day 11, Penkridge to Great Haywood

Now, what can I get wrong today? Hopefully nothing much as it was rather uneventful. There seems to be a lot more water than when we came up, more too than yesterday, when we did have trouble getting out of Rodbaston lock. I went off on my bike again, which was good fun and I suppose good exercise too. We had thought about trying to get all the way back to Kings Bromley today - another day pretty much like yesterday, and you've seen what that did to me, so I thought better of it this morning and we decided to go for a later start and spread the final leg over two days. As it turned out, that meant a 10.30 start and as a result of that and the bike, me helping a lot of people through the locks. I never mind that though, always a pleasure with my trusty Duntan windlass. And one of the people we met, Paul, I really hope to meet up with again. He came up to Jim and said 'That's Chertsey, isn't it?' - bearing in mind the boat still bears no identifying marks. Paul told us that his father and uncle both worked at Les Allen's, and did Chertsey's rebottoming in the eighties. He was a fund of information about the time Chertsey spent at Oldbury - which goes back even before Richard Barnett's ownership and includes the 'missing years'. I've given him my contact details so I do hope he'll get in touch - he even said his uncle might too.

Now I just have to hope that this will post...

Monday 13 September 2010

New tricks

Day 10, Black Country Museum to Penkridge.


I've got some nice photos of industrial dereliction, but I'll save them for a quiet moment. We didn't set off until nine, and started down the 21 at 11.30, taking it nice and leisurely, until about a third of the way up a familiar figure appeared - Henry and Phyllis, retired professional boatman and woman, were following us down. We'd met them at the rally, and they're lovely people - and they insisted that we weren't holding them up, but it certainly put the pressure on. Even though they had to refill every lock behind us, they still kept right with us. And found time to teach us a trick or two as well!

Sunday 12 September 2010

Pubs to visit before you die...

To start with last night. We went to the beer tent, but the music was indeed too loud, a right couple of belters and it was generally agreed not at all the sort of thing for this audience (I was later told that Friday night's duo were meant to top the bill on Saturday but were double booked). But things certainly turned out for the best, as we were taken to a pub, the Old Swan in Netherton, otherwise known as Ma Pardoe's, and my god, what a pub. The brewery tap for the Old Swan brewery, and the beer started at £1.80 a pint. But that wasn't the best bit. Nor was the fantastic layout, the organ, the enormous range, the amazing landlord, or the man who does the brewery tours and came and told us all about it. No, the best bit as far as I was concerned, the bit I couldn't take my eyes off, was the ceiling in the public bar. It was made of panels of vitreous enamel, patterned and featuring a central panel with the pub's name and picture of a swan, and looking as clean and new as when they were installed in the 1860s (I think). Absolutely marvellous. If I were a hisrorian I think I wouold write a paper on the innovative use of vitreous enamel in the Black Country. If you haven't been there, you just must. (I took some photos on my phone but the attempt to transfer them to the computer was unsuccessful, sorry)

The beer must have been very wholesome (although to be honest I didn'y have a great deal) as I slept the sleep of the righteous and awoke refreshed at nine, to a sunny morning aand lots of interested - and interesting - passers by. The day flew by and it was soon three o'clock and people were starting to leave, so we followed Dove and Minnow through the tunnel and back up factory locks, but decided to give Wolverhampton a miss, and our nerves (and heads and stomachs) a bit of a rest and have instead stopped for tonight at the Black Country Museum. A long day tomorrow should get us safely past Autherly and ready for a final push back to Kings Bromley on Tuesday.

It was a really enjoyable weekend, and we've met some more new people and had a wonderful time. Oh, and I've hung up my plate... Well, it was getting in the way.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Fending for myself

Well, not really, but you must know by now that I can't resist a terrible pun... Anyway, fender news later.

Back to last night in the beer tent... What with the dogshit and the fair and the multitudinous yoof, I didn't start out with high hopes of this festival. But the beer tent was excellent. There were over a dozen beers, from memory, and some ciders, all served without froth on the top much to the consternation of the locals. There was great music from a couple of blokes, one with guitar and voice, the other with woolly hat, extravagant moustache and electric violin. Their country-y/folky/familiar standards set a super atmosphere and we were in there from about seven until after midnight. I would say however that the number of beers on offer significantly outnumbered the number of available toilets, which seemed a bit of an oversight. Oh god, that dogshit...?

There was the obligatory raffle, and I'm afraid I won a prize. As always, my luck is just sufficient that my number is drawn after the bottles of scotch, the bottles of wine, and the bumper sized boxes of chocolates have already been picked off, leaving behind the unwanted gifts and the items that are worn about the corners from having been passed from raffle to raffle. My trophy was one of those collectible (why?) Wedgewood plates, this one featuring a whimsical scene of horse drawn boats (carthorse drawn, to my untrained eye), attended by bonnetted and neckerchiefed people while a red steam locomotive (the future!) thunders across the viaduct behind them. Even if I liked hanging-up plates, which I don't, it is twee beyond belief. But given the alternatives (two men's handkerchief sets, one spotted, one with those brown borders which had obviously been doing the rounds since the seventies); a satin (satin! And as near to black as makes no difference) duvet set, or another plate, this one featuring illustrations of knots. In German) you will see why I came away with this particular souvenir of the evening.

For some unfathomable reason (I hadn't eaten off my new plate: 'Decorative art object. Not for food use. Unusual colour pigments may contaminate food') I was feeling rather delicate this morning, not to say bilious, and have been carrying myself around carefully and feeding myself small morsels all day trying to build up my strength for tonight's onslaught on the beer tent. I fear the music will be louder tonight.

There are a number of small stalls here, and I have got myself a rather good mirror to put on the table flap, round, and thick glass with a bevelled edge. I asked the woman how much, she said a fiver. I hesitated, and she said, 'It's old!'. My quizzical look acknowledged the undeniable truth of this, as it was mounted with rusty clips on a piece of plywood embellished with chipped plaster flowers. No, she said, I mean really old, antiquey old, it's at least fifty years old... I asked her if she'd take three and settled on four.

The other major purchase of the day was a front fender, finally. Not quite traditional as it's black polyprop, but it is wrapped in a section of tyre to stop it snagging and getting worn out, so that hardly notices. Until we can get some staples to attach it to the cants, it's tied with blue string to the hinges of the deck lid, but it doesn't look bad and hopefully should stay in place and absorb a proportion of the impact of the inevitable blows on lock gates.

Friday 10 September 2010

Well here we are at last

Day 6: Wolverhampton to Netherton

Or, I guess, Windmill End. Determined not to be caught napping this time we were up at five, having spent a peaceful night on the offside mooring. We had time for a cup of tea though and left at about six. This was possibly the best time for my first sight of this section of BCN industrial dereliction, ghostly in the misty dawn light. We chugged along quite happily (a few tricky turns, but more water than there might have been, and - so far - nothing on the prop) until we caught up with Minnow, who were having trouble with their water pump. We went on ahead for a couple of hours, waiting for them at the bottom of Factory Locks. After a while along they came, having effected a temporary repair on the guilty spring. But when we got to the mouth of Netherton Tunnel they stopped again; this time it was broken beyond repair - so out came the cross straps, and Minnow was hitched to Chertsey, and Blossom steered them both through the tunnel. It's not a very interesting tunnel, but on the plus side it's nice and wide and straight. Interest (e.g. bendy bits, narrow bits, low bits and sharp bits) as a feature of tunnels is somewhat overrated, I think.

Once out of the tunnel, there we were here, and practically on our alloted mooring spot. So we banged in the pins and tied up. First impressions - the dog shittiest towpath in England... second; it's going to be noisy, with music one side and a funfair the other. And lots of kids... But we've also caught up with Dove and admired their new cloths; I think I shall almost certainly get mine done by the same person, Sam, who's based at Braunston. They're Regentex, which I much prefer to the shiny vinyl which looks too much to me like lorry curtains, and which I gather with careful maintenance can last a good long time.

Stop press! Blossom has acquired a new spring! And I must prepare some tea beforre we repair to the beer tent, as it looks as if the food outlets won't be set up in time.

So - we made it. Now I wonder what the weekend will bring.